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A family hugging and smiling

The Royal Mencap Society is a UK-based charity that works with people with learning disabilities. They support their families and carers, as part of their work.

As clients go, we’re very hands-off when it comes to Mencap. We manage their servers, but otherwise, they run their own deployments and employ their own development team.

One thing worth noting is how Mencap use a piece of software for their discussion forums called Discourse. It was created in 2013 as an open-source online forum and mailing list management software programme built on Ember.js and Ruby on Rails.

As a clever way of managing costs, Mencap is using the free (open source) version. However, Discourse only supports Docker, and this made the process fairly complicated to run natively. Because only Docker-based Discourse installations are officially supported, there is no support for any other installation techniques, such as Cpanel, Plesk, Webmin, and so on.

This is because Rails apps are difficult to host. Even if a server already has Postgres, Redis, and Ruby installed, you still need to consider Sidekiq and Rails processes, as well as setting Nginx. With Docker, it’s possible to achieve a fully optimised Discourse setup in a single container, coupled with a web-based GUI that makes updating to new Discourse versions as simple as clicking a button.

What we did

Our involvement here was to set up a custom docker installation on an EC2 instance. The challenge was that we couldn’t use Amazon’s ECS with this docker install method. It’s quite complex to set up for what’s meant to be quite a simple application, and at the time our developer had a fun time solving a lot of technical challenges.

Since completing this work, Mencap is now largely self-sufficient. We like to think of this as a great example of how we can use our expertise to get a client up and running and empower them to manage their own deployments moving forward. We’re here to offer support as and when needed at any level of touch from this kind of hands-off approach after set up, to fully outsourcing development and hosting services.
 

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